Trying to decide which LEVER Harp to purchase?

  • Participant on #210695

    Looking for quality Lever Harp that has beautiful sound, same tension as pedal (so if I want to upgrade) and won’t break my budget.

    Would love to hear discussion as to benefits and comparisons of L & H, Salvi, Camac, Dusty etc.

    I love the look of L & H Prelude but also curious as to the differences with Salvi’s Gaia, Hermes and Ana

    Yes, I’m a newbie and appreciate feedback.

    wil-weten on #210696

    Hi Gail, for many moons now I have been on the same quest… Except that I don’t have any plans to move to a pedal harp (yes, I don’t believe it would be a question of upgrading, just like no violinist would ever say he is upgrading to a cello, it’s just a different kind of instrument).

    The following is what I have come to believe.

    Beauty is partly a question of taste. Some people like a warm and full tone (like me). Other prefer or more clear and transparant tone. Others something in between.

    To start with your idea of pedal harp tension, I firmly believe that it won’t make too much of a difference in technique when you would go from a firm middle tension lever harp or a high tension lever harp to a pedal harp. I am not talking about low tension harps, as these might well tolerate techniques that are less suitable for playing the pedal harp.

    As to ‘breaking the budget’: this is a personal thing. See buying a harp as an investment which will bring you joy for many years. When right now, you don’t have the money burning in your pocket for the harp you love, you may consider hiring one for the time being.

    Another thing to consider: pedal tension lever harps are smaller than pedal harps. Gut strings sound better when they are long enough for their diameter. This is especially the case with the lower strings.

    Tell us a bit more about the kind of music you love and whether you already know for sure that you really need a pedal harp and we could help you better.

    charles-nix on #210703

    Agreed–what kind of music you love is the most important. I moved from lever to pedal. I have no problems switching back and forth resulting from string tension. What was and is an issue for me is string spacing/octave distance and position of the harp on your body, as in “How far do you reach for middle-C?”.

    I would also say that there is vastly more difference in tone color, playing position, string tension, and every other variable between any two lever harps than any two pedal harps. You really need to be sure what you love to play and listen/play before buying to be sure you are getting the instrument you need. If you are not sure, I would certainly recommend trying out a number of instruments. Personally, I am a big fan of used instruments that are well-maintained because they will have already developed their voice, and you know what you are getting. You can also buy one that has already depreciated somewhat, and be able to get most or all of your money back if you choose the wrong one.

    The levers chosen also have a big influence on how well the harp sounds. They need to be easy to keep in regulation and not affect the tone too much. You will be playing, on average, with half of the strings levered at any one time. Camac and Truitt levers are my favorites among the big brands. Loveland and L&H Performance, less so, but still acceptable. Many lever harp builders offer a choice of levers.

    Biagio on #210704

    Wil has made most of the comments that I might have, here are a few more:

    To Wil’s last comment I would add “How much experience do you have playing and do you have access to a teacher?” I host a forum for beginners and that is the first question I ask when such a question comes up. Id est first find a teacher, then consider different harps with his or her guidance.

    Even though a mid-to-high tension lever harp may be strung with nylon (such as the Dustys or Tripletts) there is no reason you cannot replace those with gut at the same tension. It’s a question of whether you want the firmer tactile sensation, mellower tone, and faster decay that gut offers over nylon. Of course the Dusty Boulevard already has gut at “concert harp tension.”

    Any such harp from a known manufacturer will be well made, so I think it is more a matter of a) ergonomics and b) your budget.

    Everybody’s body is different so the only way you will be able to compare will be to sit down at those you are considering and try them out. Personally if I were strongly considering moving up to a pedal harp I would want the lowest bass possible and go with the Salvi Ana. But that is a BIG lever harp so I would also be considering my skill lever, portability, etc. etc.

    The more strings there are the more levers there will be and each one of those will add about $20 US to the cost for the lever alone not to mention the additional engineering involved for a larger instrument. Additional enhancements will of course add to that: decorative elements, fancy wood patterns, amplification, type of sound board, and so on. Most people will recommend a spruce SB but some excellent harps such as the Merlin and Boulding Concert Oran Mor use a high density laminate. Again you really cannot tell if something is right for you without trying it out.

    Good wishes,

    wil-weten on #210706

    I very much agree with Biagio on the point of having a teacher. As to the great yahoo group Virtual Harpcircle, I think that both beginners as more advanced players of the harp find something to their liking there.

    The Salvi Ana with 40 strings and the Salvi Hermes have lever gut tension. (Yes, older Salvi Ana’s had pedal gut tension).

    If one really wants pedal gut tension, it comes to a Lyon & Healy Prelude (40 strings) or Troubadour (36 strings).

    Then there’s the Camac Mademoiselle (40 strings) strung with pedal gut tension. Also interesting may be the Camac Excalibur (38 strings) with carbon strings and tension between ‘celtic’ and ‘classic’ tension.

    karen on #210707

    Hi Gail~
    If you are positive you want to eventually move onto to a pedal harp, I recommend the L&H Prelude. Some of them have fantastic sound, and there are always a few used ones available since they are the natural step before buying a pedal. I played a Pratt Chamber Harp (lever) before moving onto a L&H pedal (a move I wish I had done earlier!). It had fabulous sound and is a gorgeous instrument. However, it was a bit tricky to play that all week and then play my teacher’s L&H harp at her studio due to string spacing, etc. It was just enough ‘off’ that it threw me. This does not happen with the Prelude. Another idea would be to get a small pedal harp (you can pick them up for $6k up if you are patient) One of my friends bought a Salvi petite pedal harp for $6500–perfect for her..not the best but perfect for her needs and ability.
    How fun! Enjoy the process of choosing. Each one really does sound different so be sure to play it first.

    Jerusha Amado on #210712

    Wil mentioned that buying a harp is an investment. I tend to agree if we’re talking about pedal harps. My experience with them is that they hold their value better and appreciate at a faster rate; lever harps not as much. For example, folks who are looking to buy a used lever harp expect the buyer to sell them at a deep discount as compared to a new lever harp, even if the used harp is only a few months old, whereas the same expectation doesn’t seem to apply to the pedal harp.

    wil-weten on #210713

    @Jerusha, I think I used ‘investment’ in another meaning than a pure economical one (English is a second language for me and sometimes meanings of words are not exactly the same after translation).
    I meant investment as paying a substantial amount of money for an instrument one hopes it will bring joy for many years. Not as paying for an instrument that will keep (much of) its economical worth on the market. Sorry for my lack of clarity.

    Biagio on #210714

    @jerusha- no offense but I beg to differ. If someone “expected” me to sell a good used harp at a steep discount they would be sadly disappointed. A typical discount for a used harp with no cosmetic defects – lever or pedal – would be 10% and that is entirely due to the fact that the warranty would no longer apply.


    Jerusha Amado on #210716

    Hi Wil,

    No apology is necessary! Your wording of the sentence was not in error; I just misunderstood.

    Hi Biagio,

    I don’t mind at all if folks don’t agree with me, so no worries there. I bought a lever harp from someone who sold it for 20% below the retail price, which I thought was too steep of a discount. The harp was only owned for a few months and was in perfect condition. I also follow lever harp ads. I often see recently-purchased harps that are advertised at a 20% discount.

    It’s just my impression that lever harps don’t hold their value like pedal harps do; I could be wrong, though.

    patricia-jaeger on #210733

    Hello Gail, Many good suggestions are above. No one has yet mentioned any single-action lever harp.There is already, for decades, the Tyrolean single action pedal harp, which some players have researched and imported
    from that area of Europe into their own countries. When Mildred Dilling, American First Lady of the Harp as she was called in her long solo pedal harp career here in the last century, wanted to tour across the country with a singer, she had a wish. That was for a more portable yet resonant smaller harp to take on that tour inatead of her large very heavy gold harp that she usually used. She looked to a clever builder in the New England area of the U.S.: Douglas Fay. He designed such a practical small harp for her, and took out patents to protect his single mechanism inventions. These are operated by either hand, only needing seven harp levers, each activating all the C’s or all the D’s.etc. on the entire instrument to change pitch by 1/2 step. Formerly called the Dilling Harp, this new model is now called the Douglas Harp and is now made in Florida near Sarasota by Mr. Fay and his crew.Contacts: Tel. 1-941 445 2208
    Prominent owners of these harps include among others, Emily Mitchell, Paul Hurst, Erik Berklund, Julia Jamison.

    duckspeaks on #210747

    Just one remark on the word “same” as in “same tension”.

    It is not exactly the same. 40-string harps have shorter equivalent vibrating lengths and the tension is lower on most notes where real pedal strings are used. The tension is still higher than smaller harps. The lowest notes (metal wound strings) may be thinner than pedal strings, as in the case of Camac. I have not touched the other two brands.

    In place of “same” I’ll substitute “closer”. This is good when you are physically growing up and really need an in-between stage. One could consider renting or doing without it.

    Donna O on #210748

    I own a Lyon Healy Prelude 40. It’s string spacing and tension are described as similar to their pedal harps. It uses pedal harp gut strings and the size of the harp is the same as their Chicago pedal harp sans base which is deeper to accomodate the pedals so the vibrating length of the strings is the same. That said, I absolutely love my harp. It has a big rich, warm and mellow sound which is what I wanted. It is easy to find used Preludes since many eventually trade up to a pedal harp. It is a great size for gigging and fairly easy to transport. It has held it’s value really well and expect to pay about 10% less than new. If purchased new L&H has a buy back program if you want to upgrade to pedal harp. Like all harps,it’s important to try before you buy as every harp is different.

    Biagio on #210753

    Hi Jerusha,

    Well, to be honest people often sell a harp at less than a consignment entity might value it, so I’ll grant your point LOL. Maybe they saw another harp they just had to have, perhaps they just don’t play it as much any more, etc. etc. Here’s the way many pros price a used harp, for what it’s worth:

    About 10% off retail right off the bat
    Deduct $50-$100 US for each cosmetic blemish
    Deduct another $50-$200 if strings are old and/or harp has not been regulated recently (amount depends on the specific harp)

    Price at less than 1/2 original price or less if there are structural but repairable defects.
    That last one can be “interesting” to some if they are willing. For instance, lever harp with a split neck may be repairable or replaceable for little cost, some sound board cracks may only be cosmetic etc.

    Hi duckspeak,

    Just an addition to your comment (which I know you know but some may not): “tension”is a much misunderstood concept. There’s static tension which refers to the force exerted when a string is at rest, kinetic when it is plucked, and resistance which is entirely different from both. That refers to the elasticity of the string, gut being less elastic than the artificial types (Tynex, Fluorocarbon, etc.).

    Just curious Gail,

    It does strike me that while the various harps mentioned, especially the Prelude and Troubadour, are all excellent pre-pedal instruments, if you are a complete beginner you might want to think about a less expensive model to start. Interests change as we go along and you can learn good basic technique on, let us say, a Dusty Ravenna, as you can on a Troub; perhaps sell the Ravenna later if you decide you want to grade up.

    Just thinkin’…


    Jerusha Amado on #210757

    Hi Biagio,

    Your information on how to price harps is very helpful!

    Do you think folks also discount a harp based on its age, regardless of condition? (I’m not sure how much entropy factors into the equation.)

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